When M.I.A. posted the song I’m A Singer on her label’s website earlier this week, she was not only escalating her feud with New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg, she was also taking part in the peculiar tradition of slagging a journalist through song. The lyrics to I’m a Singer seem to be a direct response to last week’s New York Times Magazine article by Hirschberg, which the artist alleges was a misrepresentation of her.
On the same page as the song, M.I.A. placed audio clips of her interview with Hirschberg as proof that she was manipulated.
As for the lyrics of the song, M.I.A. raps that “the story’s always f---ed by the time it hits/And why the hell would journalists be thick as sh--?/’Cuz lies equals power equals politics.”
If musicians have legitimate beefs with the journalists who don’t tell their story accurately, they have the perfect forum to get the word out, but their resultant song needs to hold up to help their cause. But the problem with songs like this is that they age quickly. Look at some of these samples, and it’s clear how difficult it can be for listeners to find a universal truth to which they can relate after the news story blows away.
Get in the Ring by Guns N’ Roses (1991)
This paranoid rant is heavy on the use of specific names and light on the quality control. Axl Rose taunts writers and editors including “Bob Guccione Jr. at Spin,” which is not exactly the most lyrical name to put into verse. He goes on to speculate that the younger Guccione dissed Gn’R because he’s jealous his Penthouse publisher father has more luck with the ladies — an interesting, if not potentially libelous, allegation.
Sample lyric: “I got a thought that would be nice/I’d like to crush your head tight in my vice/Pain!/And that goes for all you punks in the press/That want to start sh— by printin’ lies/Instead of the things we said.”
A Letter to the New York Post by Public Enemy (1991)
This one reads like an actual letter, with Chuck D and Flavor Flav airing their grievances about a paper that at the time had been delivering “190 years continuous of f--ed up news,” and how Jet magazine, which was supposed to be an ally to the group, ran a story about Flav assaulting his girlfriend, but instead of trying to get a statement from Public Enemy, just used a quote from the newspaper.
Sample lyric: “Sorry, Jet you took the info straight out of The Post/Burned us just like toast/When it comes to getting your facts straight about P.E./Get your sh— correct.”
Ballad of John and Yoko by the Beatles (1969)
Although John Lennon wrote some timeless universal songs about the human condition, he also wrote a few overly autobiographical songs. The title alone should be a giveaway that this tune is one of the worst offenders. At least he comes across as comical after three refrains of “the newspapers said.”
Sample lyric: “The newspapers said/She's gone to his head/They look just like two gurus in drag.”
On the web
• Read the New York Times Magazine article by Lynn Hirschberg, M.I.A.’s Agitprop Pop
• Listen to M.I.A. - I'm a Singer